A Philosophy of Pastoral Ministry
God calls out a people for Himself from every nation, tribe, and tongue (1 Pet 2:9; Rev 5:9). Yahweh is not just the God of the Jews, but He is God of the Gentiles, too (Rom 3:29). Yahweh unites Jews and Gentiles in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:28; Eph 2:11–22). With unity in the Holy Spirit as our bond of peace (Eph 4:3), Christians work together to build up one another in the Christian faith (1 Thess 5:11).
As members of the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:27), God’s Spirit has gifted each believer to serve God and others (Rom 12; 1 Cor 12; Eph 4). One of these gifts, intended to be used to glorify God, and given to the church for edification, is the pastoral gift (Eph 4:11).
The gifting to be a pastor is sometimes confused with the office of elder (1 Tim 3:1–7; Titus 1:5–9). By God’s orderly design, women are not permitted to hold the office of elder, nor are they to be teachers of the church (1 Cor 14:34–35; 1 Tim 2:9–15). Some women have the gift of pastoring, however. This is evident by what we know of the good works of pastors. My wife and I have six children. When our children were young and all under our family roof, my wife was an extraordinary shepherd of our children. She fed them, healed them, taught them, counseled them, prayed with them, guided them to green pastures (ie. soccer pitches, football fields, 4-H farms, etc.), and she loved them.
Elders, who are pastors, have a spiritual priority of caring for souls (1 Pet 5:1–5). Too often, elders with the spiritual gift of pastoral ministry are overburdened with the business affairs of the local church. Spiritual neglect of the flock is problematic, and it can only lead to sick, starving sheep, and an unhealthy church body.
Consumer-driven churches often turn the gifted pastor into an entertainer with demands for more and better technology, and Broadway musical-quality worship services. Success in these settings is determined by statistical analysis. Attendance, membership (if applicable), participation percentages, and financial giving dictate whether the show will go on with the current pastor.
The average pastoral tenure for an American pastor in a local church is less than four years, which hardly allows enough time for the pastor to meet, get to know, and nurture every member of his flock. The pressure is immense to have the best show or the best programs in town. Are any of these concerns even in the Bible?
Does the Bible teach us anything about the work of the pastor? Are there examples of pastors on the pages of Scripture? What conclusions can we draw from these for a philosophy of pastoral ministry?
We must have a working image of what the local church is supposed be, according to the Bible, not the culture. The local church is not a building, or worse, a campus. The local church is not a business. The local church is not a recreation center. The local church is not a rock concert, nor a stage production. It is a flock with a shepherd, a body made up of members, in the household of God, reaching out to the world, from the true Vine, with the life of God.
Acts 2:41–42 helps us to understand what constitutes a local church, “So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. 42 They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Some argue that the book of Acts is descriptive and not prescriptive; however, apart from this list of activities, how would we know what the earliest church was doing as their continual devotion?
Church history has shown what the church can become when it is loosed from this prescription. It can become a ritualistic religion attempting to mimic Old Testament Israel (Roman Catholicism). It can become a windowless cult center (Jehovah’s Witnesses). It can incorporate everything from holy underwear (Church of the Latter-Day Saints) to pet baptisms (Liberalism).
If Acts 2:41–42 is interpreted prescriptively, then we have what we need for understanding church practices. In addition, with the New Testament epistles addressing activities in the church, we have some further insight. Beyond the scope of the New Testament, we depart from the regulative principle, which teaches us to do what the Bible prescribes for worship and church life.
In Acts 6:1–6, we also see how the early church was already having problems with overtaxing elders with less than spiritual affairs. “It is not desirable for us to neglect the Word of God in order to serve tables (6:2),” was the argument from the twelve apostles. They offered a resolution, “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word (6:4).”
Being led by the Spirit, they formed the office of deacon, where everything other than prayer and the ministry of the Word could be dealt with by qualified men (1 Tim 3:8–13). The men who first held the office are listed by name in Acts 6:5. Specialization of labor, including the benevolence ministry to the poor, widows, orphans, etc., was wisely handled.
This brings up another important part of local church ministry: the funding of the church ministry. Where will the church get its money? Where will it spend its money? Who will manage the finances of the church?
Acts 4:31–35 informs us of the economics of the earliest church, “And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. 34 For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales 35 and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need.” We have seen how this is no longer a task of the elder/pastor (Acts 6:1–6).
Pooled resources, to meet financial needs and bring about economic equality in the church, is supported in Paul’s argument for generous Christian giving in 2 Corinthians 8–9. More specifically, the goal of financial giving by Christians is equality in the economic status of church members (2 Cor 8:13–14). Sadly, as far as I know, we have no examples of this even being attempted to be put into practice by any local church.
In actuality, Christian giving to the church is between 2–3% of income. Maybe, 2 Corinthians 8–9 is just descriptive, and not prescriptive, too. I pity the man of God who steps up to the pulpit and preaches Acts 4:32, along with 2 Corinthians 8:13–14, in spirit and truth. Still, I wonder what we are missing in the realm of blessings from heaven for our disobedience in these matters.
What if the local church ministry consisted of the component parts of Acts 2:41–42? First, an elder would preach the Word, and an elder who preaches and teaches is worthy of double honor (1 Tim 5:17). Clearly, this is the first work of the church in the book of Acts.
Second, we believe God is faithful to grant hearing and faith (Rom 10:17) to His elect (Eph 1:4–5), who are baptized by immersion (also a bit prescriptive in Acts), upon regeneration by the Holy Spirit, and conversion, evidenced through repentance and faith. Should we not support men of God, dedicated to prayer and the ministry of the Word? Paul made this inquiry, “If we sowed spiritual things in you, should we not reap material things from you (1 Cor 9:11)?”
So, preaching and baptism occupy the first two spots for what we should be doing in the local church. Preaching and baptisms are best performed by elder/pastors. Both are spiritual events. They are acts of spiritual warfare (Eph 6:17, 20), and can serve as triumphant expressions of Christ victory at the Cross. Men of God must rightly divide the Word of truth (2 Tim 2:15), and the more dedicated they are to the primacy of these tasks, the better for everyone in the church. Both of these events are accompanied by prayer and should include the Word (Acts 6:4).
Third, we see the baptized believers being added to the already existing church (2:41). Elder/pastors must give an account of their stewardship of the flock of God (Heb 13:17); therefore, we believe their flock should be identified. The Lord knows those who are His (2 Tim 2:19), so a local pastor should be able to tell you about each sheep under his care? No doubt this is a mega problem for some elder/pastors. Does he know them personally, intimately? Does a shepherd spend time with his sheep, protecting and providing for them (Ps 23)? Church members are sheep in Christ’s flock, and in the flock of the elders, appointed by the Holy Spirit (Acts 20:28), to shepherd the flock of God (1 Pet 5:1).
Fourth, membership done in covenant invites accountability and church discipline when necessary. Church discipline is done carefully and graciously (Gal 6:1) to bring a wayward sheep back into the fold. Ignoring the need for church discipline will incite other members to venture away for their place in the pasture.
Church discipline is every member’s responsibility, and it occurs when a brother or sister is observed in sin of some kind (Mt 18:15–20). Preaching, baptism, membership, and restorative discipline are activities in the local church. In one sense, they all serve as forms of positive church discipline.
Fifth, fellowship is crucial to the life of the local church (2:42). Christians, like sheep, need the presence of others in the flock. This provides a kind of protection and encouragement. The Chief Shepherd is the Good Shepherd (Jn 10), and He wants His sheep to gather together (Heb 10:25). Corporate gatherings of God’s called out people is the proper definition and action of the church (ekklesia). We are called out of the world to gather together as Christ’s church in the world.
We fellowship for worship, corporate meals, apostles’ teaching, sacraments, and for the preaching of the Word. This koinonia also takes place at fellowship meals in one another’s homes (Acts 2:46). Fellowship provides a means for church members to practice the law of Christ, the law of love, toward one another. Fellowship is the way to practice all of the “one another” obligations, too.
Sixth, the breaking of bread (2:42) comes with two interpretations. One view sees this as the Lord’s Supper sacrament (1 Cor 11). The second view has it as corporate and house-to-house fellowship meals. Both views include activities clearly prescribed elsewhere, so either interpretation could work.
Community life takes into consideration the common and makes it holy. Food and fellowship bind us together. We are needy creatures, who like the ravens, enjoy the food provided by God through His people (Lk 12:24). The body of Christ is made up of people with both bodies and souls, and both need to be fed.
Seventh, the church has a ministry of prayer (2:42). As individual Christians, we are to pray without ceasing, praying at all times (Eph 6:18). We pray in worship, before meals, at the sacraments, at the preaching and teaching of God’s Word, for the sick, etc. In other words, we pray when we are together. Prayer is a ministry of every Christian, but again we see its special significance in the work of the elder/pastor (Act 6:4).
Finally, they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching (2:42). We do, too. We have the canon of Scripture, our foundation being the writings of the prophets (OT) and apostles (NT). For this reason, an elder/pastor must be apt to teach (1 Tim 3:2), being devoted to the Scriptures (Acts 18:5).
The Word of God is sometimes equated with food, and this spiritual food is what the sheep feed on for their spiritual life and health. The supremacy of preaching by an approved workman, devoted to the Scriptures, apt to teach, appointed by the Holy Spirit, is the first and best work of the elder/pastor (1 Cor 14). Pastor, do you love Me? Feed My sheep.
To sum, we have the prescribed ministries of the local church: preaching the Word, baptism, Lord ’s Supper, breaking of bread, apostles’ teaching, corporate worship, church discipline, and prayer. Each of these activities is prescribed in the Bible for the fellowship gathering of the saints.
In conclusion, a philosophy of pastoral ministry includes the office of elder/pastor, who participates in all of the prescribed activities of the local church body, and leads, when it comes to those aspects where prayer and ministry of the Word is called for in the task. As for additional activities (ie. car washes, carnivals, and Easter egg hunts, etc.), we recommend the church forsake anything beyond the prescription of Scripture. As for pastors: beyond prayer and ministry of the Word, it is best ministered by a deacon or other members of the congregation.
When the early church was starting and simple, performing these activities, God added to their number. The members marveled at what God was doing in their midst because abundant grace was upon them all, and these were the devotions of elder/pastors (6:4) and the sheep (2:42) in devotion to Christ.
Spokane Valley, Washington
March 11, 2021